The Beat Generation in a Scholastic Analysis

Literary Hipsters and subversive Visionaries

Diploma Thesis, 2005

97 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Content

I. Subject and Method of Analysis
1. Introduction of the Subject Area
2. Modus Operandi
3. The Resources Situation and the State of Research

II. The Genesis of the Beat Generation
1. The „Rebellious Group“ at Columbia University and their „Muses“
2. The Literary Nucleus of the Beat Writers
A. William Seward Burroughs – sophisticated, elevated addicted, eccentric and isolated
B. Irwin Allen Ginsberg – visionary, orgiastic, anarchistic, orientalistic, psychedelic, activist hippie bard
C. Jack (Jean-Louis Lebris de) Kerouac – angelic, lonely, vulnerable, martyr of the be-bop saints

III. The Literature Report on the Common Ground of the Beat Generation
Cineastic Analysis of the Movie “BEAT TODAY”

IV. Self-Reflective Approach to the Film “Beat Today”

V. Film Synopsis


Primary Works
Secondary Works
Essay Collections (INTERNET SOURCES)
Articles, Essays, Receptive Writings


- literary hipsters and subversive visionaries -

I. Subject and method of analysis

I 1. Introduction of the subject area

1997 was the year of both political changes and cultural shipwrecking in the social and cutural landscape of the U.S.A. The medias were increasingly selling the American dream on nation-wide broadcasting ranges, infiltrating high-hopes and great expectations into Iowa´s bedrooms, Philadelphian malls and New York´s bars, when two of the most controversial and genuine writers, born in, and exiled from this country, were to be deceased[1] +[2]. It was to be the last year for those two (together with Jack Kerouac[3] ) menthors of the Beat Generation, who so very intensively were to change the perspectives and concepts of literature and cultural consciousness in the postmodern síecle.

For the author of this thesis, 1997 was to be the beginning of a scientific journey into the heart of higher education in Romanian, German and Austrian universitary institutions, in search for the vast literary heritage of an avantgarde bohemian group of writers, friends, intellectuals from the U.S.A. - the Beat Generation.

Their permanent quest for own special anti-moral and anti-social „ new values“ firstly striked my attention, when reading the classic road-novel „On The Road“, which bestly represented the frantic, restless spirit of the beat life.

Now we desire the urgent necessity for reviving and continuing with the „visionary way“[4] recalled by Ginsberg into our stream of consciousness, democratic and sensitive values bestly pointed out by the great American bard of words - Walt Whitman[5]:

„ Intense and loving comradeship, the personal and passionate attachment of man to man -- which, hard to define, underlies the lessons and ideals of the profound saviours of every land and age, and which seems to promise, when thoroughly develop'd, cultivated and recognized in manners and literature, the most substantial hope and safety of the future of these States, will then be fully expressed.

It is to the development, identification, and general prevalence of that fervid comradship, (the adhesive love, at least rivaling the amative love hitherto possessing imaginative literature, if not going beyond it,) that I look for the counterbalance and offset of our materialistic and vulgar American democracy, and for the spiritualization thereof. Many will say it is a dream, and will not follow my inferences: but I confidently expect a time when there will be seen, running like a half-hid warp through all the myriad audible and visible worldly interests of America, threads of manly friendship, fond and loving, pure and sweet, strong and life-long, carried to degrees hitherto unknown -- not only giving tone to individual character, and making it unprecedently emotional, muscular, heroic, and refined, but having the deepest relations to general politics. I say democracy infers such loving comradeship, as its most inevitable twin or counterpart, without which it will be incomplete, in vain, and incapable of perpetuating itself.“

It is assumed that US-president George W. Bush will persevere in his 2004 – 2008 administration in the same militarist, inhuman, for-profit policy, without any lenient consider of the 55.557.584 popular votes in favour of the Democratic Candidate John F. Kerry[6], and it is a dire necessity and my duty – our all duty as intellectuals and peace-loving citizens of this world to oppose the political development in the U.S.A., which undoubtely will effect and telecontrol the European, Asian and African politics, economies and social phenomenas in the same destructively and liberticidal way as it has done in the last four years. Therefore I choose as the subject for my diploma thesis the analysis, elaboration and biographical rendition of the most influential cultural and political countermovement of the 20th century America – the Beat Generation in both cinematographical – the film „Beat Today“ - and scientifical manner – the scholarly part of the diploma thesis.

I. 2. Modus operandi

The structure of work is stretched out on two major lines of action:

A: The scientific analysis of the Beat Generation as literary and political countermovement concepted as a literature report on what has been written and published on the Beats. Also I will replenish what their common ground was, and which impact their lifes and works had on contemporary postmodern culture (e.g. Burroughs as the mentor of the Punk Rock/Heavy Metal/Cyber Punk/Grunge subcultural movements – Ginsberg as the father-figure of the Hippie movement). Also the significance of their central ideas today, with all the aspects it implies will constitute a part of the diploma thesis. Further on I will survolate the nowadays literary production and cultural echo around the world of all the institutions (universities, foundations, archives, medial sources, schools etc.) that deal with the Beat heritage, focusing on the documenting of the beat movement especially in the U.S.A. and Europe.

B: Together with the VHS – tape itself, the film anaytical structure and synopsis of the film „Beat Today“, as the „vivid“ supplement to the scholastic analysis, with its after-effects in European circles of Beat – reception will constitute the second part of this work, also the argumentation for choosing film as the medium of transmission. I will also provide a film script and an „intimate“ self-reflection on the methods, goals, intentions and expectations of the filming process, including comments on the cinematography and dramaturgy. The „intertextuality“ with other beat works, like the movie „Pull My Daisy“ by Robert Frank, or the opera (musical play) „The Black Rider“ by Robert Wilson/Tom Waits/William S. Burroughs, concepted as an hommage to German expressionism will be also elaborated. Last but not least I will enqueue the film „Beat Today“ in the cineaste tradition of experimental-avantgarde-filmmaking, that emerged through the „Cut – Up – School“, which William S. Burroughs initiated together with Brion Gysin/Anthony Balch/Ian Sommerville in Paris during the early sixties, before the huge underground - boom in 1964 brought independent filmmakers on the New York film-scene to impressive top out-put.

These two coexisting bodies of work will provide the desired complexity of both scientifical approach and immanent working - methods in order to point out why the Beat Generation is not extinguished, but very alive and kickin´ all over the globe in terms of countercultural and authentical movement and alternative life-proposal. Over the last sixty years almost everybody, who became interested in this literary group had the chance to research and read their books, though force-controlled state institutions tried very hard to censor and excoriate these literary innovative works. Nevertheless many independent publishing-houses[7] dared to combat cenzorship and opened up a substantial forum for the Beat writers, which is being carried on up to the present day. This is what makes my diploma thesis to draw breath in the end of the year of 2004, although many academics and critics would wish to plaster the innovative literary techniques and world-shattering visions writers like B.A. William S. Burroughs, Distinguished Professor Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, B.A. Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus Gary Snyder, Ph.D. Lawrence Frelinghetti, Peter Orlovsky, B.A. Philip Whalen, John Clellon Holmes, Bob Kaufman, Ph.D. Diane DiPrima, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), B.A. Philip Lamantia, B. A. Lew Welch, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, M.A. Ruth Weiss, B.A. Joyce Johnson, B.A. Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser), Janine Pommy Vega, B.A. Anne Waldman, Ph.D. Ann Charters, Ph.D. Josephine Miles, James Broughton, Charles Bukowski, Bob Dylan and their muses: Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke, Lucien Carr, Carl Solomon, Hal Chase, B.A. Carolyn Cassady, Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs, Edie Parker, Eileen Kaufman brought into being.[8]

3. The resources situation and the state of research

This body of work will analyze the current situation of the secondary literature written on the Beat Generation both in books and internet research sources.

A: Academic Libraries

- Library of the University of Klagenfurt, Austria
- National Library of Vienna, Austria
- Central Library of the „Rudolfina“- University of Vienna, Austria
- Specialized Library for English and American Culture Studies Vienna, Austria
- Specialized Library for Contemporary History and Eastern European History Vienna, Austria
- Central Library of the „Philipps“- University of Marburg a.d. Lahn, Germany
- Central Library of the University of Augsburg, Germany
- Central Library of the „Ludwig – Maximilians“ - University of Munich, Germany

B: Internet Research Sources

All the websites which offer an accurate information background on the publications, online-forums, magazines, literary reports, conferences, foundations, projects, biographies, newsgroups, etc. will be listed in the bibliographical notes in the end of this thesis. Also I will provide the country of origin, and the category of origin of the websites. A more detailed disquisition is to be presented in the devolution of the chapter dedicated to the internet research sources I used. This modern research forum represents insofar a convenience, as it proves how many people[9] use them on a regular basis (or not), which makes it more easy to follow and sum up the persons interested in the Beat Generation today. As many of the sources in the Internet are accessed by both private persons and official institutions the numbers are of aproximate engagement.

II. The genesis of the Beat Generation

1. The „rebellious group“ at Columbia University and their „muses“

In between 1944 and 1950, the first six years [10] of literary production by the main figures in the Beat Generation[11], who first joined forces in 1944 in the city of New York[12], as Klaus Hegemann is pointing out very clearly in his dissertation „Allen Ginsberg -Zeitkritik und politische Aktivitäten“[13], a few of the former professors of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac from their Columbia University – days had to become except the beatniks themselves the first reviewers of their first written texts[14]. Though the Columbia University was to become somehow the intellectual impulse for dedicating time on the classical canon of English and American literature taught there, authors like William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, T.S. Coleridge, William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Francis Scott Fitzgerald being lectured, Ginsberg criticized the course of instruction because it did not include writers like: Walt Whitman, Henry Miller, Percy Bysshe Shelley or William Carlos Williams.[15] Also the appearance of the „ hombre invisible[16] into the group of young bohemiens together with his „personal canon of literature“ he introduced to Ginsberg, Kerouac and Huncke, consisting of writers and philosophers like Aischylos, Oswald Spengler, J. W. Goethe, Arthur Koestler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fjodor Mijailovich Dostoievsky, Arthur Rimbaud, Isidore Ducasse Lautréamont, Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Aldous Huxley or Alfred Korzybski, has changed their conditioned concepts on literature and narrative structures of that time. Their interests in European literature increased enormously, the question arrousing why these American writers were much more interested in European literary traditions rather than in the good old writings of their own country ?! One explanation for this curious phenomenon is the lugubrious and existentialist essence of the Russian soulful novels of the 19th century, or the picturesque abundance of escapism and transcendental desires of French symbolist poetry, which fascinated Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Chase. They polemized, studying over and over again on the so - called „routines“[17] in their numerous evenings spent in the 115th street on the Upper Westside, where the first of the Beat-communities was founded.[18] This can be seen as the first „literary studio“ of the beat-movement, where Kerouac and Burroughs were writing on a novel called „ And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks“, inspired by the homicide of David Kammerer, who was stabbed by Lucien Carr in a self-defense act, when Kammerer was trying to convince the young man into „unfair practices“[19]. Another decisive impact in the formation of the beat-group was the pickup-acquaintance of Burroughs on Times Square with Herbert Huncke, a down-and-out pimp. Keroauc described Huncke in his first novel „ The Town And The City“, as „a munchkin, dark-skinned, reminding of an Arab man with an oval face and gargantuan blue eyes, ever covered by tired eyelids, the exagerated big eyelids of a mask. He roved with the silently floating moves of an Arab, his facial expression diligently tired, indifferent, though somehow also astonished, and he was always on the Quivive. He made the impression of a man, who is cordial unhappy in this world.“[20] He was to become the principal catalyst of the Beat Generation, Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg being inspired by Huncke´s unconventional street life, and this veteran of the urban drug culture served as their guide into a world that had previously been unknown to them. Herbert Edwin Huncke was first and formeost a hustler, drug addict, and petty criminal, an ethos that Beat writers found irressistibly exotic and, in comparison to middle-class existence during the Eisenhower era, compellingly authentic. Huncke served as the model for characters in several major Beat works, including Kerouac´s „ On The Road“ (1957), Burroughs´ „ Junky “ (1953) and Ginsberg´s „ Howl “ (1956), and it is a commonly-held opinion that Huncke was the originator of the term „Beat“[21], or as Ramond Foye points out in the„Huncke Reader“: „The discovery of Herbert Huncke by the Beats in the late 1940´s was something akin to novice explorers´ stumbling upon a great archaeological find. He was the Ur-Beat: Kerouac´s lonesome traveler, Burroughs´ junky, Ginsberg´s angel-headed hipster. Primitive and incipient, Huncke´s life became the Rosetta Stone of Beat sensibility.“[22] It was through William Burroughs that Huncke soon met Allen Ginsberg, at that time a Columbia undergraduate, and Jack Kerouac, a recent Columbia dropout who became so unchanted with Huncke´s repeated use of the carny term „beat“, meaning tired and beaten down, that he later used it as his famous label for the entire generation (Kerouac later clouded things by suggesting it was derived from „beatific“).

Another role model for Ginsberg, Burroughs and Co. was Neal Cassady[23], who visited New York in December 1946, in order to meet the „intellectual hipsters“ from Columbia University he heard so much about from his friend John C. Holmes[24]. Cassady embodied the image of the restless American, always aspiring for the immediate fulfilling of his desires. His statements about the frantic time spent with the Beats he formulated this way: " I became the unnatural son of a few score of beaten men. I alone, as the sharer of their way of life, presented a replica of childhood."[25]

The academic background of the Columbia University together with the naturalistic underground of New York, with all it´s subversive „characters“ were to establish a new literary and anti-social consciousness. In 1944 Ginsberg, Kerouac and Carr formulated and discussed „The New Vision“ or „New Consciousness“, a literary manifesto inspired by the works of such authors as Franz Kafka (Burroughs´ favourite author of that time), Fjodor Dostoievsky, Albert Camus and W. H. Auden, „The New Vision“ providing a framework for the Beat aesthetic. It sought knowledge through experience, especially experience from the underside of life.

2 . The literary nucleus of the Beat writers

So the first catenation between Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg accrued trough the common contact to Lucien Carr[26]. Ginsberg met Kerouac in the summer of 1944 in the apartment of Joan Vollmer and Edie Parker. Celine Young – a friend of the two women – and carr used the appartment as a gathering point, while the art student Parker was dating Kerouac. Carr initiated a meeting of his two friends, and an instant „congeniality of nature“ appeared, as Ginsberg later pointed out.[27] Kerouac was watching closely in December 1944 how Burroughs administered morphine to himself. At this time the group was teaming up again in the living community of Parker´s and Vollmer´s. As well as Carr was constituting the copula between Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs, the latter expanded the group by contacts to figures from the red light district of Times Square.

In the outward frame of their „routines“ first literary, dramatic art and scientific realizations were summed up and written down. This is the time when Jack Kerouac started writing on „The Town and the City“, and Allen Ginsberg began to fill up his journal with notes, he later used up in his first volume of poetry: „Howl and Other Poems“. Burroughs was already a graduate from the University of Harvard[28], sophisticated and elevated in matters of writing and literature, becoming authomatically (also because of his advanced age) the mentor of Kerouac and Ginsberg. In Harvard he was an outsider, not connecting with the increasing interest of his collegues for Marxism.[29] His attitude towards the elite – school was bestly expressed by himself in a later statament: „I didn´t like the whole atmosphere. But I learned how to use a library. I think it´s very valuable for a writer to do a lot of reading. You´ll find that most writers at one time or another have done a great deal of reading . . . If you want to write you should know what´s been done in your field.“[30]

This self-determining perception of literature as inalienable form of individual commitment was to create a common spirit for the writers to get enacted in the main and only important work: writing literature. If Ginsberg was incresingly looking for his personal „literary landscape of the soul“ by clearing the tragic death of his beloved mother Naomi Ginsberg in 1956, a radical communist Jewish actionist, and the relationship to his father Louis Ginsberg, a socialist Jewish teacher and writer, Kerouac was more and more „escaping“ into asketic isolation, aspiring for freedom. By example of his main literary influences by the late 40´s and early 50´s – Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire and Thomas Wolfe – he was trying to write himself free from the yoke of syntax and grammatical containments, by finding his own individual language – spontaneous prose. At the same time Burroughs was very much preocupied with pharmacology, the consolidated findings of Wilhelm Reich, and other matters of the natural sciences. His first concrete textual work will assume a definit form some years later in Mexico, after a leathel gun-shooting „William Tell routine“.

Though these three friends and writers were experimenting with different implements in order to find the new consciousness, an alternative to the norms of traditional society and religion, shunning the reality of everyday life in America, believing that the artist had a central place in the evolution of a better society. They used their writing, with its unstructured style and unconventional language, to convey their opposition to the cultural and aesthetic standards of previous generations.

A. William Seward Burroughs – sophisticated, elevated addicted, eccentric and isolated

Described by Jack Kerouac as "Tall, 6 foot 1, strange, inscrutable because ordinary looking (scrutable), like a shy bank clerk with a patrician thinlipped cold bluelipped face," William Seward Burroughs was the grandson of the founder of the Burroughs Adding Machine company, which evolved into the Burroughs Corporation and later merged with Sperry Univac to form Unisys. Born on February 5, 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri, Burroughs grew up in St. Louis, where his upper-class midwestern background did not suit his tastes. A bookworm with strong homoerotic urges, a fascination with guns and crime and a natural inclination to break every rule he could find, there seemed to be no way Burroughs could ever fit into normal society.

He graduated with a B.A. from Harvard in English literature, and in his early thirties traveled to New York. He became a heroin addict quite intentionally[31], in the process meeting the prototypical junkie drifter and future Beat hero Herbert Huncke. His St. Louis friends David Kammerer and Lucien Carr introduced him to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Burroughs' future common-law wife, Joan Vollmer Adams. He was older than them, but they were impressed by his obvious intelligence and worldly cynicism.

By his mid-thirties William S. Burroughs had still not begun to write. At first indifferent to serious literary ideals, Burroughs wrote "Junkie," a heroin-tinged autobiography, and allowed Ginsberg to arrange for its publication as a pulp paperback by Ace Books. Burroughs followed this by a similar study of his homosexuality, "Queer,[32] " but this was too much even for the pulps, and would not be published for decades.

By this time Burroughs had already relocated to East Texas to try to live as a farmer. Herbert Huncke and Joan Vollmer Adams joined him, and they all lived together in a state of drug-addled squalor. Kerouac visited with Neal Cassady and others, and later described the wild scene in "On The Road." Pursued by the law for his drug activities, Burroughs went to Mexico, and it was there that he committed the thoughtless act that would change his life. Trying to show off his marksmanship to a couple of friends, he announced that he was going to do his William Tell act. Joan put a glass on her head, and he killed her with a single shot.[33]

Burroughs wandered the world from South America to Tangier, Europe to New York.[34] He settled in Tangier where Paul and Jane Bowles also lived, and it soon became a popular literary escape for new American celebrity writers like Ginsberg and Kerouac. Kerouac was impressed by the messy pile of stories Burroughs had been idly writing, and he and Ginsberg helped to type them up. Kerouac also suggested a name for the whole thing - "Naked Lunch,[35] " which made Burroughs an underground celebrity, and is widely considered his best work.

The main theme of his about forty novels was to become the opponent fight against controlled force - conditioning emanated from the organs of state: police, military, secret agencies, governments, dogmatics, encrusted institutions and most of all ideological supressive mass – manipulation through medias and false informations.

In his world wide known statement that „language is a virus“[36] he pointed out the outer-space origin of the language as an instrument, emphasizing that „we must find out what words are and how they function. They become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not of the image of the thing itself."

This concept he later developed to a complex writing technique together with Brion Gysin[37] in Paris. In 1959 the two artists met in the famous Beat Hotel in the Rue Git le Coeur[38] developing the so called „cut – up & fold - in techniques“. About cut-up's, which establish new connections between images and expands one's range of vision consequently as we have seen lately in video art - as Burroughs himself expected by saying that the cut-up's can be applied to other fields than just writing, such fields like games, film and science. Here´s a statment of his from the novel „The Third Mind“[39]:

The cut-up method brings to writers the collage, which has been used by painters for fifty years. And used by the moving and still camera. In fact all street shots from movie or still cameras are by the unpredictable factors of passersby and juxtaposition cut-up's [...] The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and across the middle. You have four sections: 1 2 3 4... one two three four. Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different - cutting up political speeches is an interesting exercise - in any case you will find that it says something and something quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Here, say, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem. As many poems as you like ( . . .) I have used an extension of the cut-up method I call 'the fold-in method' - A page of text - my own or someone else's - is folded down the middle and placed on another page - The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other - The fold-in method extends to writing the flashback used in films, enabling the writer to move backward and forward on his time track - For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred - I insert the resulting composite as page ten- When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forward in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one - the déjᆠvu phenomenon can so be produced to order - This method is of course used in music, where we are continually moved backward and forward on time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes - In using the fold-in method I edit, delete and rearrange as in any other method of composition".

It was to become a major innovation in literature, fine arts and cinematography of the time, which multitudinous of artists all over the world used in their newly recognized experiments. The aroused tradition of Dadaism, Surrealism and Lettrism – authors like Jean Genet, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Tristan Tzara, Guillaume Apollinaire or Antonin Artaud were closely analyzed – created a whole school of Cut-ups in between 1959 and the 1960´s, with writers like Carl Weissner, Claude Pelieu, Jeff Nuttall, Alfred Behrens, Udo Breger, Jürgen Ploog, Gerhard Hanak, Walter Hartmann, Jörg Fauser, Harald Norse or Mary Beach getting increasingly interested in the „new writing technique“.

At this point we realize Burroughs´ importance as postmodern writer, who developed beyond T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and James Joyce and revealed the ultimate structure of writing, and who acts through his antagonism towards either/or dichotomies and his - not exclusively limited on texts – search for concealed and suppressed meanings as a forerunner of deconstructive philosophy. Cut-ups are seen as possibilities to reflect drug experiences: they are nonlinear, developing irrational and illogical material, being adequate to effectuate – in terms of Rimbaud - “a Dérangement of the senses “, a concept, which Burroughs was interested in since the early fourties. They set the writer free from the tyranny of grammar and syntax.

In his cut-up trilogy „The Soft Machine“[40] - „The Ticket That Exploded“[41] - „Nova Express“[42] Cut-ups are seen as the main weapon used against the forces of control, and he clamps them on maximum: as means to carry over the visual technique of the collage onto literature. Different than automatic writing these are used absolutely aware, there is no unaware element in this method.

Gysin and Burroughs were escalating for a few years on this achievement, extending this technique to film as well. Together with him, Anthony Balch[43] and Ian Sommerville[44] Burroughs then elaborated four experimental avantgarde movies using the same technique: „Towers Upon Fire“, „Guerilla Conditions“, „The Cut Ups“ and „Bill and Tony“. „Towers Upon Fire“ was shot between 1962 and 1963 with a 15 year old De-Vry-Camera in Paris and Gibraltar and was shown together with Tod Browning´s „Freaks“ in 1964 in the „Paris Pullman“ cinema in London. „Guerilla Conditions“ was a serene 23 min. long documentary about the lifes of Burroughs and Gysin, shot in the Beat Hotel in Paris, Chelsea Hotel in New York, Hotel Villa Muniria in Tangier and the Empress Hotel in London between 1961 and 1964. The movie was never finished out of various reasons. The third movie project „The Cut Ups“ was a true Cut-up work: four film reels were cut into 30 cm long pieces and reassembled by a laboratory technician in a rotation process. It was performed in the Cinephone cinema in London in 1966. The third finished movie „Bill and Tony“ was an adaptation of the Burroughs – text „John and Joe“ , in which William Burroughs and Anthony Balch are making an appearance as „talking heads“, reading out two texts from a Scientology-Auditing-Handbook.

As very early Anglo-American experimental movies these works are of a very significant importance, because they were shot before the underground-movie-boom from the U.S.A. In 1964, and because they were much more vanguard than the underground filmmakers from New York. The movie „Beat Today“, closely analyzed in the second part of this work ,was shot in the same low(now)-budget tradition like the movies mentioned above, representing the same countercultural cinematographic relevance. Later will also be pointed out an „intertextuality“ between „Beat Today“ and another avantgarde work by Robert Frank from the year 1958.

Besides his innovative Cut-ups and Fold-ins, or his Nagual Art[45] Burroughs developed the anti-textuality and anti-cultural perception[46] by the genesis of his masterpiece „Naked Lunch“. This novel has been variously regarded by critics as either incomprehensible and pornographic or as the inspired work of a literary genius. Burroughs commented on his work in it´s final chapter as follows: „ Naked Lunch is a blueprint, a How-To Book . . . Black insect lusts open into vast, other planet landscapes . . . Abstract concepts, bare as algebra, narrow down to a black turd or a pair of ageing cajones . . . How-To extend levels of experience by opening the door at the end of a long hall . . . Doors that only open in Silence from The Reader. Otherwise he is taking his own pulse . . .“[47]

His unconventional narrative techniques have inspired both positive and negative critical assessments of the efectiveness of the end result. Ihab Hassan[48] has stated that there is a certain order and method behind even the more bizarre elements of Burroughs´ style. Hassan contends that the cut-up method is used very skillfully, juxtaposing language in a way that creates unexpected meaning of significant value. John Tytell[49] calls Burroughs „the most experimental of the Beats“ and finds his novels to be characterized by a „labyrinthine density“. David Lodge[50], however, views Burroughs as „deeply confused“ and judges „Naked Lunch“ to be a „very indecent book“ and „Nova Express“ a „very tedious book“. Several critics have pointed out the frequency with which Burroughs employs metamorphosis as a metaphor and central theme in his work. Hassan characterizes the mutations of characters, both human and non-human, in Burroughs´ works as a „process of disintegration“. Marry McCarthy[51] (the only critic Burroughs stated as „understanding what IT really is about“[52] ) claims that such metamorphoses are used as punishments and that Burroughs himself is essentialy a reformer, albeit one whose message gets lost in the depth of his pessimism and the bizarre quality of his satire. Referring to Naked Lunch McCarthy concludes: „ The book is alive, like a basketful of crabs, and common sense cannot get hold of it to extract a moral“. Tytell shares this preception of Burroughs´ fiction , referring to the author´s „cruel pessimism and the absolute lack of hope“. Duncan Wu[53], however, views Burroughs as a writer in the tradition of William Wordsworth, who was also fascinated with the process of metamorphosis. In addition, according to Wu, both Burroughs and Wordsworth believed in paradise or a promised land, and thus Burroughs´ writing are „essentially moral“. Perhaps most at odds with the evaluations of other critics is Wu´s contention that „Burroughs has always been an optimistic writer“, a trait which he claims can be traced to the writer´s ability to recover from his heroin addiction.


[1] April 5, 1997 Web posted at: 5:02 p.m. EST (2202 GMT) NEW YORK (CNN) -- Poet Allen Ginsberg, whose raw, angry verse epitomized America's "beat" literary movement in the 1950s and '60s, died Saturday. He was 70. He died at 2:39 a.m. surrounded by family and friends at his New York apartment, said Bill Morgan, his friend and archivist. On Thursday, it was learned Ginsberg had terminal liver cancer, and doctors had said the poet was expected to live between four and 12 months. Detailed informations at:

[2] William S. Burroughs suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 83 Saturday, August 2, 1997 in the hospital of Kansas City.

[3] Jack Kerouac died on the 21. of October 1969 in St. Petersburg.

[4] Allen Ginsberg stated in a conversation with Lucien Carr, Kerouac the “nakedness of soul” as protective solution.

[5] Walt Whitman: „Democratic Vistas“, 1871

[6] see electoral and popular vote summary on the internet – site:

[7] Just some of them to be enumerated here: Olympia – Press (Paris), Hanser – Verlag (München), Flamingo (London), RoRoRo (Hamburg), Grove Press (New York), Fuck You Press (New York), Viking Press (New York), City Moon Press (New York), Holt, Rinehart & Winston (New York), City Lights (San Francisco) etc. I will give a detailed overview of them later on in this work.

[8] Here are listed only the names of the most prominent members of the Beat Generation, though many other artists and friends of the group were gathering around the nucleus of Burroughs-Ginsberg-Kerouac. There wore about 300 Beatniks living in New York by the end of the fifites (see:

[9] Every website presents a register with the number of people accessing it.

[10] Lucien Carr´s statement in Barry Miles´: „Ginsberg. A Biography“, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1989, pg. 47: „ In those years at Columbia, we really did have something going. It was a rebellious group, I suppose, of which there are many on campuses, but it was one that was really dedicated to a „New Vision“. It´s practically impossible to define. Maybe it was a term we just sold ourselves. It ws trying to look at the world in a new light, trying to look at the world in a way that gave it some meaning. Trying to find values . . . that were valid.

[11] Some of them arrived in the metropolis at the Hudson River in order to incorporate in a study, the others were looking for occasions to enjoy life in the underworld of New York as social outsiders.

[12] The constitution of the Beats in New York was made possible by Lucien Carr in February 1944, when he introduced Burroughs to Ginsberg and Kerouac. Author Aaron Latham declared that „Lucien Carr was the father of the Beat Generation, and not Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg or William Burroughs. He was the one who brought the others together.“ see „The Beat Generation. A Gale Critical Companion – Volume 1 Topics“, 2003, pg. 41

[13] Hegemann, Klaus: „Allen Ginsberg – Zeitkritik und politische Aktivitäten“, Nomos Verlaggesellschaft, Baden-Baden, 2000 Zugl. Univ.Diss., Bonn 1999 - pg. 59 (as follows he will be quoted as K.H. - Ginsberg)

[14] In between 1943 and 1949 Ginsberg and Kerouac were the students of professors Mark van Doren, Meyer Shapiro and Lionel Trilling, who supported Ginsberg through his literary years.

[15] K.H. - Ginsberg, pg. 34

[16] This was the name given to WilliamS. Burroughs in Tanger by the locals, because of his ocularly disembodied appearance. See Barry Miles: „El Hombre Invisible“, 2002

[17] The so – called „routines“ were telepathical experiments in which Burroughs, Keroauc, Ginsberg, Joan Vollmer, Edie Parker and Hal Chase extended the „fields of consciousness“ by use of narcotics and psychotherapy. Burroughs was following a hypnoanalyse at Dr. Wolberg, after which he created surreal sketches, using characters that emerged from the therapy. See Barry Miles – Burroughs, pg. 56

[18] Barry Miles: “William S. Burroughs. Eine Biographie“, Übers. Udo Berger und Esther Berger, Kellner GmbH & Co Verlags KG, Hamburg, 1994 – pg. 55 (as follows he will be quoted as B.M. - Burroughs).

[19] On the evening of 13. August 1944 Lucien Carr kills David Kammerer in self defense. Kerouac and Burroughs are arrested as material witnesses because they did not initially report the murder. Later, they collaborate on the novel mentioned above based on the events. It was rejected by several publishers at the time and has never been published. See B.M. - Burroughs, pg. 52/53

[20] B. M. - Burroughs, pg. 54

[21] Huncke´s published writings are comprised of autobiographical sketches and short stories. His prose style, which is similar to Kerouac´s automatic writing method, applies a frequent use of pauses and dashes, mirroring the sense of ephemerality, loss, and weariness that characterized his Bohemien lifestyle. In his later years, Huncke became a frequently consulted source of information on the details of the private lifes of Beat Generation notables. Principal works by Herbert Huncke are: „ Huncke´s Journal“ (sketches and memoirs) 1965, „ Elsie John and Joey Martinez “ (short stories) 1979, „ The Evening Sun Turned Crimson “ (short stories) 1980, „ Guilty of Everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke “ (autobiography) 1990 and „ The Herbert Huncke Reader “ (memoirs, sketches, short stories and letters) 1997.

[22] Foye, Ramond in: Schaefer, Benjamin (ed.): „The Huncke Reader“, Introduction, pg. xv.

[23] Neal Cassady, legendary folk hero in the Beat movement, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to a life of hardship, married three times, and was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac´s "On The Road". Cassady was a car thief and minor con-man who spent much of his earlier years in reform schools and juvenile detention centers. Jack Kerouac joined Neal Cassady on several road trips across the United States and Mexico, writing about their experiences, sometimes as they were happening, while Cassady generally led the way. These adventures were culminated in the pages of "On The Road". Kerouac included Cassady's persona in several later novels, such as "Dharma Bums" and "Visions of Cody". Cassady reportedly appealed to Kerouac to teach him how to write fiction, but of all of the prominent Beats of the generation, he was the least prolific. His only book, an unfinished autobiography titled "The First Third", was published by City Lights Books in 1971 a few years after his death. Cassady was found in a coma alongside a pair of deserted railroad tracks in Mexico in 1968, presumably after a night of partying with alcohol and drugs. He was found wearing only a t-shirt and jeans and it was concluded that he was intent on walking to a town 15 miles away and fell asleep mid-journey. The night was chilling and wet with rain. Cassady remained in a coma until later that day when he passed away. His death came four days before his 43rd birthday and one year before Jack Kerouac´s .

[24] John Clellon Holmes is an essayist, poet, and novelist; and was a "sometime member" of the Beat Generation. He was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, March 12, 1926. Less controversial and experimental than Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, Holmes had the sensitivity to realize that their confused values and poignant ambitions were symbolic of something outside their small universe, and published a novel, 'Go' (1952), which presented characters based on Kerouac, Ginsberg & Neal Cassady years before more famous works like 'On The Road' would be released. Holmes had met Jack Kerouac at a party, and the two promising young novelists struck up a friendship on the basis of their interest in writing. In 1948, Holmes had pressed Jack Kerouac to describe the unique qualities of his generation, and Kerouac invented the term 'Beat Generation' on the spot. In 1952, after the publication of 'Go,' Holmes wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine, 'This is the Beat Generation,' in which he introduced this phrase to the world (read out in „Beat Today“). Holmes remained close friends with Kerouac until his death in 1969. There are some poignant stories in Barry Gifford's oral biography "Jack's Book" about some of Jack's last, lonely visits to Old Saybrook to enjoy the domestic pleasures of Holmes' quieter existence with his wife. Later in life, Holmes lectured at Yale and gave workshops at Brown University. His final book of poems, Dire Coasts, was published in 1988, the year he died at the age of 62 in Middleton, Connecticut, leaving behind three novels & manuscripts for several books of poetry, essays and memoirs.

[25] See Website „Neal Cassady at the Blue Neon Alley“

[26] Like Herbert Huncke Lucien Carr is a liminal Beat figure who is often overlooked in studying the origins of the movement. To the budding authors Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac he was a charismatic and seasoned guide to the New York City Bohemian scene.

[27] Michael Schumacher: „The Dharma Lion. A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg“, St. Martins Press, New York, 1992, pg. 36. Kerouac was a little bit more reserved, and in the beginning acted more aloof towards Ginsberg.

[28] He studied English literature in Harvard between 1932 and 1936, graduating with a B. A. degree. Later he took courses of medicine at the „Rudolfina“ University of Vienna (1936/37), and attended graduate courses of anthropology at Cambridge and Harvard University (1938/39)

[29] William Burroughs quoted by Ted Morgan: „Literary Outlaw. The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs“, New York, 1990

[30] William Burroughs quoted by Barry Miles: „El Hombre Invisible“, Virgin Books, 1993, pg. 26

[31] Burroughs on drug usage: „ You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a matter of curiosity.“, from William Lee „Junkie“ ,Prologue, Ace, New York 1953. pg. xv

[32] „Queer“, Viking, New York, 1985.

[33] The episode is explicitly and realistic elaborated in the movie „Beat Today“ , 2004

[34] Burroughs´ routes between the 50´s and late 80´s are detailed presented by Barry Miles: Vienna – Dubrovnik - New York – New Orleans – Texas – New York – Mexico City – South America – Rome - Tangier – London – Paris – Sweden/Denmark – London – New York – Kansas

[35] See the chapters „Tangier“ and „Naked Lunch“ from B.M. - Burroughs

[36] The American artist Laurie Anderson influently adopted this concept in her musical and lyrical performances in the 70´s and 80´s. One of the very many contemporary artists who were influenced by Burroughs, besides underground music groups like Sonic Youth, Psychic TV, Mugwumps, Insect Trust, Patti Smith, Naked Lunch, Gorilla Tapes, Philipp Lachenmann, Kurt Cobain etc.

[37] Brion Gysin was born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire on 19th January 1916. He was subsequently to claim that the unusual spelling of his forename was ‘accidental’, though how accidental is open to debate since his views on the significance of ‘accidents’ are well known. He says of his name:

My given name is Brion. My Celtic mother was thinking of one of those insufferable phony kings of Ireland and spelt it with an a: Brian. Official documents took care of that and spelt it Brion, like the famous wine of Bordeaux, Haut Brion. I accepted this gladly and dropped all my other given names when I became an American citizen.’

Educated in England, at Downside College (1932-34), he moved to Paris where he studied at the Sorbonne. Among those he met at this time are renowned members of the Surrealist group, including Max Ernst, Salvador and Gala Dali and Picasso. Gysin’s work was included in the Surrealist Drawings exhibition in Paris in 1935 (Galerie Quatre).

He first visited the Algerian Sahara in 1938, a journey that was to have a deep and lasting influence on his life. Equally significant to the form of his later giant landscape paintings were the years he spent in New York working as assistant to Broadway stage designer Irene Sharaff (1940-43).

In 1953, having returned to North Africa, Gysin opened the Thousand and One Nights restaurant, where the Master Musicians of Joujouka played an ‘extended residency’. This was his primary location until 1973, although he famously spent a number of years in Paris where, with William Burroughs, he both developed the cut-up technique of writing and experimented with tapes, permutations and the Dreamachine.

In the summer of 1982 he and William Burroughs were the principal artists in the Final Academy show. His paintings are in museum collections in Paris and New York.

Brion Gysin died in Paris, in July 1986.

Selected Writings:

- Minutes to Go (with William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Sinclair Beiles) 1960
- The Exterminator (with William Burroughs) 1960
- The Process 1969
- Brion Gysin Let the Mice In 1973
- Soft Need 17 (Brion Gysin Special) 1977
- The Third Mind (with William Burroughs) 1978
- Re/Search 4/5 - William S. Burroughs/Throbbing Gristle/Brion Gysin 1982
- Stories (collection of short stories) 1984
- Here To Go: Planet R-101 (with Terry Wilson) 1982/1985
- Morocco Two (a screenplay) 1986
- The Last Museum 1986
- Chapel of Extreme Experience (John Geiger) 2002
- Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age (ed. J F Kuri) 2003

[38] Ginsberg. Corso. Burroughs. Gysin. Sommerville - A few of the poets, writers, musicians and artists who lived in the "Beat Hotel," a nameless rooming house at 9 Rue Git-le-Coeur run by the formidable Madame Rachou. The "fleabag shrine" as poet Harold Norse called it, was lovingly and penetratingly documented in photographs by Harold Chapman, who took up residence in an attic garret of the Parisian hotel during the 50s and 60s, when the place was alive with the Beat experimentation and the smoke-filled air crackled with creativity.

[39] „The Third Mind“ (with Brion Gysin), Viking, New York, 1978, pg. 38

[40] „The Soft Machine“, Olympia Press, Paris, 1961.

[41] „The Ticket that Exploded“, Olympia Press, Paris, 1962.

[42]Nova Express “, Grove Press, New York, 1964.

[43] Anthony Balch was born in England in 1938 and learned film craft in the advertising industry during the mid-1950s. He subsequently worked as an editor, distributor, exhibitor, and director. He died in 1980.

[44] B. M. - Burroughs, pg. 197 - 199

[45] „In the Carlos Castaneda books, Don Juan makes a distinction between the tonal universe and the nagual. The tonal universe is the everyday cause-and-effect universe, which is predictable because it is pre-recorded. The nagual is the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncontrollable. For the nagual to gain access, the door of chance must be open. There must be a random factor: drips of paint down the canvas, setting the paint on fire, squirting the paint. Perhaps the most basic random factor is the shotgun blast, producing an explosion of paint into unpredictable, uncontrollable patterns and forms. Without this random factor, the painter can only copy the tonal universe, and his painting is as predictable as the universe he copies. That is, he glimpses the nagual universe - the unseen - and, by seeing, makes it visible to the viewer on canvas. If the door to the random is closed, the painting is as predictable as the universe - it can only copy, and for many years painters were content to copy Nature. What I am attempting then, can be called Nagual Art.“ (January 1989)

[46] With anti-textuality and anti-cultural perception I mean the deconstruction of the technical traditions of writing and mass perception in cultural terms. Burroughs realized the manipulative, oppressive and destructive force of language and consciously devitalized it by use of experimental collages of texts.

[47] William Burroughs: „Naked Lunch“, Flamingo, 1993, pg. 177

[48] Ihab Hassan: „William Burroughs: The Subtracting Machine.“ In Rumors of Change: Essays of Five Decades, pp. 36 – 52. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995

[49] John Tytell: „The Black Beauty of William Burroughs.“ In Naked Angels: The Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation, pp. 111 – 139. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976

[50] David Lodge: „Objections to William Burroughs.“Critical Quarterly 8, no. 3 (autumn 1966): 203 - 212

[51] Marry McCarthy: „Burroughs Naked Lunch.“ In William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959 – 1989, edited by Jennie Skerl and Robin Lydenberg, pp. 33-39. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991

[52] B. M. - Burroughs, pg. 134

[53] Duncan Wu: „Wordsworth in Space“. The Wordsworth Circle 22, no. 3 (summer 1991): 172-179

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The Beat Generation in a Scholastic Analysis
Literary Hipsters and subversive Visionaries
Klagenfurt University  (American Culture Studies)
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